No quarterback, not even one as special as reigning Super Bowl Most Valuable Player Patrick Mahomes, can deter Ravens defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale from his philosophy on pressure.
In his eyes, if a quarterback is passing, he must be under duress.
So Martindale dialed up blitzes, stunts and even packages Mahomes acknowledged that he was unprepared for, but it was to no avail, as the $450 million quarterback matched every look with a well-designed screen, pinpoint pass or timely scramble.
The Ravens failed to sack Mahomes during the 34-20 loss Monday night and only hit him four times on 42 dropbacks.
“We tried a few different things. [Mahomes] has great pocket presence; he knows how to drift,” defensive end Calais Campbell said after Monday’s game. “He sees things. … He’s a great quarterback, and they give him a lot of responsibility up front controlling protections. We had our opportunities, and when we did, we didn’t get there. So, we have to watch the tape, regroup, figure it out and be better next week.”
Of all the team’s questions after a 2-1 start and a disappointing showing on “Monday Night Football,” the state of the pass rush might be the most concerning.
Despite offseason changes throughout the front seven, the Ravens haven’t seen substantial improvement in the pass rush and have, in fact, experienced a statistical regression through three games. The defense remains one of the league’s most blitz-happy units but hasn’t seen appropriate pressure rates.
In three games, Ravens defenders have recorded just six sacks. Players and coaches will be quick to say that judging pass rush success solely off takedowns is an antiquated view. But total pressure rates are down, too.
According to Pro-Football-Reference, the Ravens are blitzing on 45.9% of opposing dropbacks, second most in the NFL behind the Pittsburgh Steelers (51.2%). But while the team’s hurry rate is in the top half of the league, its knockdown rate and sack total fall in the bottom half of the league. Furthermore, its pressure rate — which accounts for hurries, knockdowns and sacks — is 18%, which also lands in the bottom half. (The Steelers, who blitz on over half of opposing dropbacks, lead the league with a 46.5% pressure rate).
For comparison, in 2019 the Ravens blitzed on a league-high 54.9% of opposing dropbacks and their pressure rate was 23.4%, which ranked 15th.
Three games of a 16-game regular season might be a bit of a small sample size, but the performance is still worthy of being questioned after the team reconstructed its front seven in the offseason. The team traded for Campbell (one sack, one quarterback hit), signed defensive end Derek Wolfe (zero sacks, two quarterback hits) and drafted inside linebacker Patrick Queen (one sack, two quarterback hits) in not only an effort to stop the run, but improve its pass rush.
Outside linebacker Matthew Judon, who is playing on the $16.8 million franchise tag, has zero sacks and three quarterback hits and is often asked to drop back in coverage in Martindale’s scheme.
Any outside help seems unlikely in the near future. When asked Wednesday if the team has thought about bringing in a pass rusher, Harbaugh replied, “I haven’t been given a name or an option on that. I haven’t heard anything about that at this point.”
Leaguewide blitz rates have increased from 27% to 30% from 2018 to 2020, according to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats. However, during that same time span, pressure rates have decreased from 27% to 25% and the percentage of quick passes — when the ball is thrown in less than 2.5 seconds — has increased from 45% to 46%.
The Ravens aren’t the only team with pass rush problems, but that doesn’t make it any less bearable.
If there’s any game for the Ravens to blitz less, it likely won’t be Sunday when they travel to Landover to play the Washington Football Team. According to Next Gen Stats, Washington quarterback Dwayne Haskins has struggled against pressure, completing just three of 18 passes for 30 yards, zero touchdowns and two interceptions, a 0.0 passer rating.
“I think it’s a work in progress. … It’s one of those things that the grass isn’t always greener, sometimes you just have to water your own grass that you have in your own yard and just work every game," Martindale said Thursday on a video conference call. “Every game has a different challenge. Obviously, the way that Patrick got rid of the ball faster than I’ve ever seen him do it, that was something that they did different. But also, our execution needs to be better in our pass rush.
"Whether it’s a defensive lineman, whether it’s a safety, whether it’s a linebacker, whatever — we need to execute better.”
Sunday, 1 p.m.
TV: Chs. 13, 9
Radio: 1090 AM, 97.9 FM
Line: Ravens by 13